Many people in the small-group world have searched for a way to multiply groups without causing a lot of relational trauma and fear. I don't have a universal answer, of course, but the best way I've found to do this is by training up an assistant leader and then giving away the small group to them.
My wife and I have done this numerous times as leaders of married couples groups. From our very first meeting, we let our new small group know our belief that, over time (usually six months to a year), God is going to raise one of them up to take over the leadership of the group. We emphasize that we're not in a hurry to make this change, but we do believe it will happen over time. Because when something is healthy, it naturally grows. After planting this visional seed, we make sure to water it often with prayer, encouragement, and support.
At a recent Vision Night for our church's small-groups ministry, I shared this approach to multiplication with all of our group leaders. It was very well received, and afterward we had all the group leaders in attendance write down the names of any potential leaders from their group on a 3 x 5 card. We directed them to put these cards in their Bibles and begin praying over them. We also had each leader come forward and write the names down on large flip pads so that our coaches and staff could spend some time praying over them, as well.
Since that night, we have had numerous leaders let us know that they are already preparing to give their group away and start something new. And each of our small-group coaches are now tracking where their leaders are in the process of giving their groups away, and how they can help them do so effectively.
Another positive aspect of the "give away your group" strategy is that it teaches a group to have a missional sense of purpose. Not only do groups meet weekly to do study and fellowship, but they're to pray weekly over who God is going to raise up next. We also encourage each group to pray for their original leaders as they branch out to start a new group. In fact, many of our groups have a special "sending out" night where they pray for the leaders as they launch out to start their new group. It's an exciting time of celebration.
I believe the reason this approach is so successful is because group leaders intuitively fear the trauma that traditional multiplication causes—and are relieved to have a less stressful and damaging method of growth. Another reason this strategy works so well is because it's easy. The new group leader already has relationships with everyone in the group, which means the group can just continue on as normal. When any leader receives the simple steps I've listed below, they actually believe it to be something they can do.
Here are the basic steps involved in the "give away your group" method of multiplication:
- Share the vision with your small group. Let the group know you are praying that God will raise up someone within the group to take over its leadership in the future. Let them know you're not in a hurry, but you believe God has a plan for growth.
- Pray for and identify potential leaders. Pray regularly that God would reveal people in your group who have the potential for leadership, and try to identify at least one person or couple in your group that has what it takes to lead the small group effectively.
- Look for the Five C's as confirmation. Those C's are: Character, Competence, Chemistry, Consistency, and Caring. You want a replacement for your group who is on time, who has great character, who you get along with, who is a great listener, and who is caring, and who demonstrates a shepherding heart.
- Make contact. Invite the potential leader(s) to get together and talk about the idea of leading the group. Affirm the 5 C's you've observed in them, and share that you're praying they would consider taking over leadership of the group. Then listen to their response. If they respond positively, move on to the final steps.
- Have them host in their home. Ask the potential leader(s) to lead the group and host it in their home as a trial period, then meet with them afterward.
- Choose a date to make the give away. Find out when they would like to take over leadership, and then announce that to the rest of the group.
- Plan a launch party. Have the small group "pray you out" as you look to start your brand new group. Celebrate the successes of your time with the group and the potential for ministry that exists going forward.
- Start your new group.
—Joe Windham is Executive Pastor of Small Groups at Grace Family Church in Lutz, Florida. Copyright 2009 by the author and Christianity Today International.